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AI-vengers Assemble! The Pope joins Microsoft and IBM in AI ethics call

In one of the more unlikely tech tie-ins of recent times, the Catholic church has joined forces with computing giants Microsoft and IBM.

Pope Francis and the Vatican, which have expressed concerns about the proliferation of AI in recent times, have teamed-up with the tech firms to call for human-centred AI design.

In a new document entitled the Rome Call For Ethics, the trio says any future AI technologies must have a respect for personal privacy, operate with transparency, be free of biases and consider human rights as a central tenet. The document also makes a specific reference to the spread of facial recognition technology.

Pope Francis himself wants “algor-ethics” – the ethical development of computer algorithms – to govern the future of AI, ensuring it isn’t used for political or commercial purposes.

The Pontiff said (via BBC): “This asymmetry, by which a select few know everything about us while we know nothing about them, dulls critical thought and the conscious exercise of freedom. Inequalities expand enormously; knowledge and wealth accumulate in a few hands with grave risks for democratic societies.”

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Microsoft’s Brad Smith, who co-signed the document, said: “I think it’s a challenging time because there is so much polarisation in so many parts of the world. We need people who can work to close the gaps that divide us – so in some ways I look at the Catholic Church, I look at a company like Microsoft, and I say why not?

“I don’t think it will be easy to develop a singular approach to ethics for machines since we haven’t been able to do it for people. But I do think we can find a lot of common ground and when you look at the world’s great religions and the world’s great philosophies, you do see some similar themes.”

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